You are here: UNA-UK hosts UK commemoration of UN's 70th anniversary

9 October 2015

Over 700 people came to London's prestigious Guildhall on Friday 9 October for the UK commemoration of the UN's 70th anniversary, hosted by UNA-UK in association with the City of London Corporation and with generous support from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, Gro Harlem Brundtland and Hina Jilani were the main speakers.

After a welcome by Alderman Ian Luder, Lord Mayor Locum Tenens, Natalie Samarasinghe, UNA-UK's Executive Director, introduced the event. Pointing to the origins of the United Nations in the Second World War, she said that the anniversary challenged the international community to assess whether its actions have been sufficient to prevent such a catastrophe from happening again.

She reinforced UNA-UK's fundamental message that despite its political limitations and failures, the UN has had a transformative impact on the world and that governments and individuals cannot risk taking it for granted:

"To dismiss the UN is to dismiss a lifeline for many people and a symbol of hope for us all... Our governments must realise that our rules-based global system will not survive unless we actively work to strengthen it. UNA-UK has been urging the UK Government to set out a clear strategy for doing so."

Brundtland and Jilani put forward strong agenda for effective UN

Panel discussion with (from left) Gro Harlem Brundtland, Hina Jilani and Natalie SamarasingheGro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway, and Hina Jilani, Pakistani Supreme Court Advocate - both members of The Elders - then took to the stage for an interactive panel discussion. The session focussed on why the UN matters and how to make it more effective and able to deliver for the world's seven billion people.

Based on questions pre-submitted by the audience and through social media on the day, they tackled some of the hardest issues facing the UN, from preventing mass atrocities to reforming the Security Council to opening up the opaque way in which the UN appoints its Secretary-General.

Prime Minister Brundtland opened the discussion by arguing that "greater transparency" in the selection process would be an important step towards transforming the UN. She recommended three reforms that echo proposals put forward by UNA-UK's 1 for 7 Billion campaign: that the Security Council nominates more than one candidate for the UN's top job; that there is open dialogue between candidates, governments and civil society; and that the next UN leader -  who will be appointed next year - stands for a single, non-renewable term:

"Instead of the Security Council ... asking the General Assembly to rubber-stamp [its] decision, it should put forward multiple candidates to give the rest of the world a real choice ... Secretaries-General should [also] serve a single, longer term of around seven years. This would give them the time to implement their priorities within the UN and free them from electoral concerns."

Click here to read Gro Harlem Brundtland's speech in full

For Advocate Jilani, who has spent her life campaigning for human rights in Pakistan and around the world, the key to a stronger UN is increased grassroots involvement. She stressed that governments should find new ways to ensure that civil society voices are "not just heard, but listened to" by the Security Council:

"The UN Charter starts with "We the Peoples" - and then the people disappear! ... There is no notion of international community without civil society."

She also spoke out passionately against abuse of the veto, stressing that it is "a privilege which has to be used responsibly", not an "inalienable right [to be used ] for selfish reasons of national interest". She called on governments to learn from past mistakes when addressing threats to peace and security, citing Iraq and Libya as examples of "what not to do".

Click here to read Hina Jilani's speech in full

Zeid delivers powerful speech on rights in UK and beyond

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (left) in conversation with Sir Jeremy Greenstock, UNA-UK's ChairmanAfter this session, UNA-UK's Chairman, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, warned about the urgent need to reinforce our international system, which is under considerable strain. Introducing Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, he said that the creation of the international human rights system was one of the UN's great achievements, but that compliance remained a serious concern.

The High Commissioner delivered a powerful speech in which he addressed the refugee and migrant crisis and reminded the UK of its human rights obligations towards those who flee conflict zones around the world:

"Crossing a border without a visa should not be considered a crime – particularly in the case of people fleeing for their survival... All migrants are human beings, and regardless of how they arrive at borders or where they come from, they have the same human rights as you or I."

Today, migration has become a massive and violent tragedy scarred by poor governance in both countries of destination and those of origin. Crossing a border without a visa should not be considered a crime – particularly in the case of people fleeing for their survival. Sharp fences patrolled by heavily armed police with dogs and tear-gas will only lead to more deaths, because desperate people will be forced to seek other, more precarious routes. All migrants are human beings, and regardless of how they arrive at borders or where they come from, they have the same human rights as you or I. - See more at: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16593&LangID=E#sthash.CJBXbG1I.dpuf
Today, migration has become a massive and violent tragedy scarred by poor governance in both countries of destination and those of origin. Crossing a border without a visa should not be considered a crime – particularly in the case of people fleeing for their survival. Sharp fences patrolled by heavily armed police with dogs and tear-gas will only lead to more deaths, because desperate people will be forced to seek other, more precarious routes. All migrants are human beings, and regardless of how they arrive at borders or where they come from, they have the same human rights as you or I. - See more at: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16593&LangID=E#sthash.CJBXbG1I.dpuf

Applause broke out across the room when he implored the UK to reconsider proposals to "scrap" the Human Rights Act, warning that such a move would damage the UK's reputation on the world stage:

"If Britain – a key member of the Human Rights Council; a founding member of the UN; and a privileged, Permanent Member of the Security Council – is considering a move that will potentially weaken a vital regional institution upholding fundamental human rights guarantees, this would be profoundly regrettable; damaging for victims and human rights protection; and contrary to this country’s commendable history of global and regional engagement.

Moreover, many other States, where civil society is currently threatened, may gleefully follow suit. Surely this is a legacy no British government would wish to inspire."

Take action

There was broad consensus among speakers and panelists that in a world where crises cross borders, effective international cooperation is vital for Britain’s security and prosperity.

The most important step the UK can take to mark the UN’s 70th anniversary is a strong commitment to invest in the continued health of the United Nations. Click here to help us convey this message to the Government

UNA-UK is the only UK charity that exists to make the case for the UN to British policy-makers and the public. Click here to support our work

Multimedia

Photos and videos

Photo gallery of the event

Video of the event

Promotional video for UNA-UK

Speech transcripts

Natalie Samarasinghe's opening remarks

Gro Harlem Brundtland's speech

Hina Jilani's speech

Sir Jeremy Greenstock's speech

The High Commissioner's speech